Many of us take it for granted that we can unlock our phones or open our laptops and be instantly connected to the wealth of information that is the Internet. It’s only when we experience a drop in Wi-Fi that we realize how dependent we are on high-speed access. But this momentary inconvenience for most of us is sadly a constant reality for the millions who lack access to broadband, making it difficult for them to access the same opportunities we may take for granted. It doesn’t have to be like that.
As we emerge from the pandemic, the importance of connectivity in almost every aspect of life has become even more apparent. And while we tend to associate infrastructure with highways, bridges and drinking water, broadband broadband itself is essential infrastructure – integral to our daily lives and the movement of information that underpins our economy. It’s the foundation that will secure our future, from smart grid technology to healthcare to public safety.
This is why legislators have particularly focused on the issue of broadband access. Just last year, leaders from both sides of the aisle came together to pass the landmark Infrastructure Act, which established the broadband equity, access and deployment agenda ( BEAD) to lay the foundations for widespread deployment and more equitable and affordable access to broadband services. .
On Nov. 18, the Federal Communications Commission released a detailed new map of U.S. broadband coverage that will be key to allocating BEAD’s $42.5 billion in funding. Its publication is an important step towards achieving equity in broadband, as it will better identify those who still do not have access to our interconnected society. Broadband connects us to essential resources and powers our schools, hospitals and workplaces. Broadband also has a positive impact on our local communities by promoting economic development and helping businesses reach new customers near and far.
Despite these advantages, however, our country’s digital divide remains stubbornly present. The bipartisan Infrastructure Act has made broadband internet a priority because, like drinking water, broadband should be considered a basic human right. We commend legislators for tackling this problem head-on. Now is the time to help close this gap, and with this generational investment, we in turn should make technology choices designed to last at least a generation.
With virtually unlimited bandwidth, fiber optic connectivity is the fastest, most reliable and innovative way to bridge the digital divide. Other options, such as fixed wireless access, may be faster to deploy but require more maintenance, have limited capacities, and require substantial new investments over a relatively short period. Fiber also requires less maintenance, is less expensive to operate and is a more sustainable option.
Many rural areas long served by community providers have had the good fortune to keep pace with the broadband advances seen in more urban areas. And while the digital divide may remain marked in many other rural communities, progress is now being made in these places as well.
Consider the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee. Prosperous small towns, large lakes, deep woods, unforgettable mountain and valley views, and four seasons of relatively mild weather attract newcomers from near and far to enjoy the low cost and high quality of life . Twin Lakes’ expanded fiber network met the needs of new residents and business owners for high-speed connections, resulting in economic growth in the area.
Service providers and suppliers are coming together to connect the unconnected by investing in innovation and increasing production, but the private sector cannot do it alone. Last week, we were pleased to join the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Telecommunications Industry Association, and Corning Incorporated in North Carolina to mark the IIJA’s one-year anniversary and explore how facilities like Corning’s are increasing their ability to manufacturing and lead workforce development training. build towards the internet for all.
We need more trained technicians to be able to meet growing demand, and we need lawmakers — from city hall to Capitol Hill — to match the speed and scale needed to solve this critical problem. We commend the FCC for releasing the updated broadband map so we know where the gaps in connections currently are. And we’re calling on state broadband offices to quickly release their five-year action plans and digital equity plans so the industry can ensure the resources deployed match the unique needs of the regions they serve.
We can all agree that every American should have access to broadband, regardless of location, and now is the time to make that a reality. The goals set by the bipartisan Infrastructure Act were ambitious, but necessary, and bring us one step closer to closing the digital divide. Even though more and more rural areas are getting connected in a meaningful way due to substantial investments in fiber, there is still a lot of work to be done and many more communities can benefit from broadband. If we leverage all the tools at our disposal, along with private sector innovation and public sector resources, high-speed Internet for all is within our reach.
Shirley Bloomfield is CEO of the Rural Broadband Association and Gary Bolton is President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association.
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